Americans may not be terribly familiar with the tradition of Boxing Day, but they'll certainly be quite happy to celebrate it with a full slate of Premier League games on the day after Christmas.
And boy, have things heated up atop the Premier League table.
Five teams are within two points of each other, Liverpool and Arsenal are tied atop the table and powerhouses like Chelsea and Manchester City are within striking distance. Meanwhile, upstarts like Newcastle and Everton continue their push for Europe, while Tottenham and Manchester United are trying to crawl back into the title conversation.
With all 20 teams in action on Boxing Day, there are more than enough quality matchups, potential big performers and possible surprises to keep Premier League fans quite festive. Let's make some bold predictions for Matchday 18's slate of games.
|Hull City||Manchester United||United win, 2-0|
|Aston Villa||Crystal Palace||Villa wins, 1-0|
|Cardiff City||Southampton||Draw, 1-1|
|Chelsea||Swansea City||Chelsea win, 2-0|
|Everton||Sunderland||Everton win, 3-0|
|Newcastle||Stoke City||Draw, 2-2|
|Norwich City||Fulham||Draw, 1-1|
|Tottenham||West Brom||Spurs win, 2-1|
|West Ham||Arsenal||Gunners win, 4-0|
|Manchester City||Liverpool||City win, 5-2|
Projecting Top Performers
Romelu Lukaku has hit a bit of a dry spell, but that will end against Sunderland's suspect defence, which has allowed 30 goals on the season (19th in the Premier League). Look for a brace from the Everton striker.
Brad Guzan and the Aston Villa defence will put on a sparkling display against a Crystal Palace side that has scored just 11 goals this season, easily the worst mark in the Premier League. Expect a clean sheet at home for Villa.
Luis Suarez is on such a scorching goal-scoring streak, he'll probably notch a brace against Manchester City's shaky defence. Ho-hum. Even so, the man to watch in this game is Yaya Toure, who has been excellent all season long and is now City's top player—at least until Sergio Aguero returns from injury.
It's hard to imagine Liverpool having an answer for Toure in the midfield.
Mesut Ozil was the pride of North London when he first arrived at Arsenal, but his form has cooled a bit of late. The German international is going to reverse those fortunes against West Ham, however, chipping in with at least two assists.
Roberto Soldado has largely been a disappointment for Tottenham this season, but he'll earn a crucial brace against a reeling West Brom side that hasn't won a Premier League match since November 2.
With Suarez on one side and Manchester City's torrid home form on the other, it probably won't come as a huge surprise if City and Liverpool combine to score seven goals. After all, City and Arsenal totalled nine.
Still, any time you see that kind of output in a game, it's unexpected. City's 35 home goals are more than every other team has scored home and away, except for Liverpool. That's not to say the Reds will knock off the Citizens at the Etihad Stadium, but they won't go down without a fight, either.
Even at home, West Ham won't stand a chance against an Arsenal squad that has taken just two points in their past three Premier League matches. Look for the Gunners to absolutely smash the Hammers.
It's been a tough year for Norwich City's Ricky van Wolfswinkel, but look for him to come off the bench against Fulham and score a goal against a team that has already given up 34 on the season—the most in the Premier League.
Newcastle have been excellent this season and are currently sixth on the table. Stoke City have struggled to score at times, with just 17 goals on the season. So how in the world will this game end in a 2-2 draw?
Well, it could be that Stoke come into this match on a four-game unbeaten streak. Or that Newcastle have lost six of their last seven games on Boxing Day. Or simply that Newcastle have been unpredictable all season long and have posted some truly wacky results.
Whatever the case may be, an in-form Stoke side will give them all they can handle and leave with a surprising point in this contest.